Sunday, February 18, 2018

Another winter's end

A few days ago, Eric Berger declared that Houston "in the midst of transitioning from winter to spring:"
A lot of people have asked whether we are done with freezes. (My wife, a gardener, especially wants to know). We think so. Typically, the last freeze for central and southern parts of Houston (think Harris County and areas closer to the coast) occurs in mid-February, and for northern areas (think Montgomery, Waller, Liberty) it is late February or early March. This year it seems highly unlikely that the region will see a freeze for the next two weeks, which gets us to March. There are always outliers—for example, Hobby Airport recorded a freeze on April 13, 1940—but the odds at this point favor no more freezes for the winter of 2017-2018.
Between Berger's pronouncement, the fact that the crane flies are beginning to appear, the fact that rodeo season begins with Cookoff next weekend (oh, how I wish I could get my hands on some tent passes!), and the fact that local establishments are already advertising their crawfish boils, I think it's safe to say that, yes, winter is over.

If you hate cold weather, this is music to your ears. It was an eventful winter, with a snowfall in December and an ice storm a few weeks ago that kept a lot of us home from work for a couple of days. I know a lot of people are tired of the cold (although, as Berger notes, the end of winter doesn't mean that there won't be a few more chilly days in our future) and are ready for a couple of months of optimal outdoor weather before the summer heat sets in.

Which will be great. Then, come August, we'll all be ready for the chilly weather to come back again.

My bi-annual post about NBC's Olympics coverage

Regular readers of this blog (both of them!) know that I am generally not a fan of NBC's Olympics coverage. But, one week into the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, I can actually list two things to like about NBC's coverage this time around.

First, I'm generally liking the live primetime coverage. Given the time difference, NBC is broadcasting events in primetime in the US that are happening late the following morning in South Korea, and while this has been a challenge for athletes, as they've had to adjust to competing in the mornings rather than afternoons or evenings, it's also created some compelling viewing. Live television, by its nature, cannot be heavily edited or interspersed with the stupid human interest features that NBC loves to force upon its viewers. It's also not quite as US-centric as edited, tape delayed events tend to be, either. To be sure, there have still been some of those elements during the primetime broadcast, NBC still can't help but focus on the "narrative" aspect of the athletes, and don't even get me started on all the commercials. However, where NBC appears to have made live events - figure skating, alpine skiing, snowboarding - the focus of their primetime coverage, it's actually been halfway decent. (I can't speak to the quality of the parallel live coverage on NBC Sports Network, since I no longer have cable, but I haven't read any major complaints so far.)

Second, I'm liking the fact that Bob Costas has relinquished his duties as host, handing them off to Mike Tirico. Tirico might be a bit bland, but at least he's not insufferable the way Costas was. I'm not having to mute the TV every time Tirico comes on, as I was prone to doing every time Costas and his hectoring smugness graced my TV screen. He truly was one of the worst things about NBC's Olympics coverage, and I don't miss him.

This isn't to say that everything has been great for NBC; they've made a few gaffes, and their ratings continue to decline (it should be noted that the US Winter Olympic team itself is performing relatively poorly, which may be part of the problem). Furthermore, I admit that my expectations for NBC's Olympics coverage are so low that even minor adjustments to their coverage count as improvement.

However, NBC's done at least a couple of things right this time around, and for that they deserve a (small) tip of the hat.

Astrodome, again

Last week, Harris County Commissioner's Court voted to spend $105 million to renovate the venerable and vacant Astrodome. This vote, which was actually the second step of an action that the Commissioners took two years ago, seeks to transform the derelict structure into parking and event space.

As readers of this blog know, I've been following the saga of the Astrodome for several years, and although I have a soft spot in my heart for the Eighth Wonder of the World, I'm also highly skeptical that it can be renovated and put to use in an economically viable fashion. This may be a $105 million money sink for county taxpayers. Furthermore, the optics of this spend are especially bad in light of the damage this county suffered from Harvey, as the Press's Cory Garcia notes:
Houston needs flood reform. Just the idea of another Harvey-level storm crashing into the city is enough to make the skin crawl. And yet every time the idea of flood reform comes up it seems like it’s followed by the question of “where will the money come from?” Now sure, $100+ million is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed to make sure the city doesn’t drown again, but at the very least it can be acknowledged that any excitement about what’s going on with the Dome — especially after voters decided against saving it back in 2013 — is tone deaf.
I get it: Houston is a city that is often seen as one that doesn’t respect or take care of its history. The Astrodome has sentimental value for many sports, sports entertainment and music fans. The building is the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” or at least the coolest contender on the list; no offense to the Palm Islands intended. It makes sense that some people think preserving it for future generations makes sense.
And yes, in the future your kids and your kids’ kids might park their car under it on the way to go see Brad Paisley play his 60th RodeoHouston show and think to themselves, “wow, I bet a ton of people got concussions here!”
That may be harsh, but I’m just not sure that turning the Astrodome into the “8th Wonder of the Convention Hall Circuit” is something worth celebrating while people are still rebuilding their lives and hearing that only so much can be done to prevent it from happening again. I’m sure we’ll host some grand conventions and meetings in the future, but the optics of it all still suck.
The Chronicle's Lisa Falkenburg, on the other hand, thinks that the county's investment in the structure is wise:
To some, investing in the dome seems a nostalgic indulgence in the face of urgent needs. Harvey victims are hoping for a tax break on properties that lost value. Those who use the criminal courts are calling for swift action on the flooded courthouse - either massive repairs or relocating the ill-planned complex once and for all. 
All of the above should be priorities for County Judge Ed Emmett and the four commissioners. 
But here's the thing: leaders have to balance today's needs with tomorrow's. The long view has its virtues. And frankly, it's been all to absent in the decision-making of Houston and Harris County. Shortsightedness has gotten us into a lot of trouble - from poor investment in flooding infrastructure to irresponsible growth that increased the region's vulnerability during storms and rain events. 
It has led us to pave over prairies. To bulldoze historic architecture and old trees and character. And yes, to leave an expensive, beloved, world-famous landmark with a lot of tourism potential rotting away in full view of visitors and homefolk alike. 
So, sure, it may seem tone deaf to pour money into the Astrodome right now, but the decision seems to be in tune with Houston's future needs. 
And critics of the decision either don't understand the facts, or willfully ignore them.
Falkenberg then launches into a point-by-point rebuttal of arguments made by opponents of the renovation project, including the claim that Harris County voters decided to demolish the Dome in a 2013 bond referendum (she's technically right; the vote was to issue bonds to refurbish the Astrodome and said nothing about tearing it down; however, it was clearly intimated by elected officials that, if the vote were to fail, the structure would be demolished). And, while Falkenburg concedes that the optics of this vote weren't particularly good, she correctly notes that this action is the second step on a path that the Commissioner's Court had begun back in 2016, and would have been taken regardless of Harvey. 

At this point, I'm tired of all the political bickering and I'm tired of seeing the grimy, derelict Astrodome sit next to NRG Stadium; I just want the saga of the historic stadium to come to a final resolution. This vote hopefully accomplishes that. I can only hope that things turn out as planned, and that the repurposed Astrodome does indeed generate a return on investment for the County. It's worth noting that the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo does seem much more sanguine about this project than they have towards previous renovation proposals; hopefully that's a good sign. 

The funding sources for the $105 million construction budget are general revenues (i.e. property taxes), hotel occupancy taxes, and parking revenue. Construction is expected to begin later this year and take about 17 months to complete. 

2018 Houston Cougar football schedule released

The 2018 University of Houston Cougar football schedule came out a few days ago:

     Sat Sep 01     at Rice
     Sat Sep 08     Arizona
     Sat Sep 15     at Texas Tech (Lubbock)
     Sat Sep 22     Texas Southern
     Sat Sep 29     (off)
     Thu Oct 04     Tulsa
     Sat Oct 13     at East Carolina (Greenville)
     Sat Oct 20     at Navy (Annapolis)
     Sat Oct 27     South Florida
     Sat Nov 03    at SMU (Dallas)
     Sat Nov 10    Temple
     Thu Nov 15    Tulane
     Fri Nov 23     at Memphis

There are things to like about this schedule, and there are things not to like. I like the fact that the Cougars get their week off in late September, between non-conference and conference play. I like the fact that this schedule has the Cougars leaving the state of Texas only three times during the entire season. I like that this schedule has only one instance of back-to-back games on the road.

What's not to like? Two Thursday night home games, for starters. These games are attendance-killers, especially given that they are against teams that don't command much interest in Houston: Tulsa and Tulane. Don't even get me started about the effect these games will have on tailgating. The Coogs will have a short week to prepare for an improved Tulane team that beat them last season, which is also not optimal.

This schedule is going to make it very tough for the Cougars to contend for the AAC West title. In addition to getting Tulane on a short week of rest, the Cougars have to face division foes Navy, SMU and Memphis on the road. And sandwiched between those road trips to Navy and SMU? A revenge-minded South Florida team that won 10 games last season.

Other tidbits: former UH head coach Kevin Sumlin returns to town with his new team, the Arizona Wildcats, on September 8th. He is unlikely to receive a particularly warm welcome from the UH faithful. The Cougars host Texas Southern as reciprocation for allowing UH's basketball program to use TSU's HP&E arena as a temporary home this season. The Cougars play three former SWC conference mates (Rice, SMU and Texas Tech) for the second year in a row.

Other than the Rice game (which really doesn't count as a "roadie" anyway), I probably won't be making any trips to away games this season. There just aren't any easy trips on this schedule, and although I definitely want to visit Annapolis someday, this year won't be the year to do it.

I'll have my customary season preview and prediction up in August, but as of right now I'm looking at this schedule and not feeling particularly optimistic. A lot of the teams the Cougars are playing this fall are improving, while the Coogs themselves took a step backwards last season.

Ryan Monceaux's thoughts on the schedule are worth a read.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Who's ready for some rugby?

Because it's coming to Houston:
Houston City Council has approved a $3.2 million deal to help the Houston SaberCats build a new rugby stadium. The stadium will form part of the redevelopment of the city-owned Houston Sports Park, just off the South Freeway. The money will reimburse team investors for putting up not only the stadium, but also a variety of improvements to the park for general use – including a new parking lot, lighting, and access roads.
In addition to the 3,500-seat stadium and associated improvements, the deal includes two practice fields. The SaberCats have committed to providing free rugby training camps to the community as well.

To be sure, rugby is a niche sport in this city. However, if there are enough fans in the region to support a professional team, then it certainly makes sense for them to have their stadium to call home.
Major League Rugby in the US is less than a year old. The Houston franchise is one of seven teams that will begin their first season in April. The SaberCats are currently playing exhibition games at Constellation Field, home of the Sugar Land Skeeters baseball team.
The spot of rugby has two major codes: rugby league and rugby union. The SaberCats and its fellow franchises will play the rugby union version the the sport, although the name of the organization itself - Major League Rugby - might suggest otherwise. Confused yet?

I can't say that I pretend to know all the rules about rugby, but I find it to be an interesting sport and I might try to attend a game or two once this facility opens. Kuff has more.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Harvey's final tally

Matt Lanza passes along these stunning statistics:
The National Hurricane Center released their post-storm report on Hurricane Harvey yesterday. These things are always interesting to read from a meteorological perspective. This one obviously has added meaning for all of us. You can read the report here. Much of what’s in the report you have already heard from us, but it is worth reading in full, as there are lots of statistics and images. Here are a few key points:
  • The highest storm total rainfall that can be confirmed is 60.58″, which occurred near Nederland, TX in the Beaumont-Port Arthur area. A 60.54″ report was confirmed in Groves, TX near Port Arthur as well. Both of these totals, along with five others (most in the Friendswood area), establish a new United States record for rainfall associated with a tropical cyclone, breaking the 1950 total of 52″ in Hawaii from Hurricane Hiki.
  • The previous Lower 48 record was 48″ from Tropical Storm Amelia in Medina, TX back in 1978. Harvey broke that record in at least 18 locations.
  • Radar estimates of 65-70″ were noted, but cannot be confirmed.
  • The spatial extent of the heaviest rains from Harvey was “overwhelming” and likely has never been matched in American history.
  • Harvey was the second costliest tropical cyclone in US history behind only Hurricane Katrina.
  • At least 68 deaths from Harvey in Texas (about half of which occurred in Harris County) were the most from a Texas tropical cyclone since 1919. However, zero deaths are attributable to storm surge, which is amazing for a storm of this magnitude.
  • Highest observed wind gust was 126 kt (145 mph) near Rockport.
  • 57 confirmed tornadoes in the Southern US from Harvey.
  • Over 300,000 structures were flooded, along with over 500,000 vehicles.
  • 30,000 water rescues were conducted and 40,000 people evacuated from flooding.
According to the National Hurricane Center, Harvey was "the most significant tropical cyclone rainfall event in United States history." Matt says that the report "still gives this meteorologist chills." It as was truly an off-the-charts event, as these jaw-dropping statistics attest. It has changed our lives and our region in ways that we are only beginning to see and may not fully appreciate for years.

And yet, we're still here. We continue to recover. Our region, its people and its economy continue to function. Life goes on.

#houstonstrong

John Royal's (last) reflection on UH basketball attendance

In his final column for the Houston Press, John Royal offers a suggestion to combat poor attendance at UH basketball games:
The Houston Cougars whine about the lack of fans that come out for basketball games. The low attendance is disappointing, of course, because this current UH basketball team is perhaps the most talented team since Pat Foster was head coach. But damn it, you have to give fans a reason to come out and watch the team.
Houstonians are a fickle group (for every team but the Texans). The Cougars have to start scheduling some big names schools so that the team can draw some attention. It’s nice to win games, but when your home schedule consists of McNeese, University of Incarnate Word, New Orleans, Fairfield, and Prairie View, then nobody is going to care. Especially when this is what the UH non-conference home schedule looks like year after year after year. Ooh, is that Arkansas on the schedule? When was the last time Arkansas was relevant? Rice usually plays a tougher non-conference than the Cougars, and TSU definitely plays a more difficult schedule. So you want fans, play a schedule worthy of fans showing up.
I might quibble with him about Arkansas not being relevant; they're not the powerhouse they were under Nolan Richardson but they still made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament two out of the last three years (and Houston has a history with the Razorbacks going back to the SWC days that always draws fans). I might also point out that some of the schools on the home schedule - Incarnate Word, McNeese, Prairie View - are likely due to convenience of proximity and minimized travel costs more than anything else. But overall, Royal has a point about weak out-of-conference schedules that do not interest or motivate local fans.

Scheduling a slate of weak out-of-conference opponents might have been a necessary evil back when the UH hoops program was struggling and getting scrub schools on the schedule was the only way to guarantee wins. But now that the team has been doing better under Kelvin Sampson, it's probably time to do away with that scheduling philosophy, and start putting together out-of-conference slates that are beefier and more compelling.

That being said, the solution is not as easy as the Athletics Director simply picking up the phone and getting Duke, Kansas and Villanova to come to town. The big-time schools have scheduling priorities of their own; many have no interest whatsoever in coming to Houston, and those that are interested likely want hefty guaranteed payouts and return games. Scrub programs will never disappear from the schedule entirely; all programs need easy, confidence-building wins, and as I mentioned before proximity and travel costs also play a factor. Finally, it's not good practice for any program to rely on the names and reputations of their opponents to draw fans. A good basketball program needs to draw fans the old-fashioned way, which is by being a good, relevant program that people want to see.

And therein lies the problem: attendance (or lack thereof) at UH basketball games has been a longstanding problem, and a stronger out-of-conference schedule will, by itself, not fix it. The Cougars need to become relevant in the college basketball world again. This is a program that hasn't won a game in the NCAA Tournament since 1984, when they were still Phi Slama Jama. Hell, the team has only even been to the Big Dance once in the last quarter century! The reason the Cougar basketball team struggles with putting fans in seats is because the program has been a non-factor on the national stage for decades. In a fickle, fair-weather, front-runner sports town like Houston, that's a killer.

So yes, upgrade the out-of-conference schedule. And yes, improve the facilities. Both of those things will give attendance a boost. But the biggest way to boost attendance is to win; specifically, win games in the NCAA Tournament. There's a decent chance the Coogs will go dancing in March. But there's a lot of basketball yet to play, and the Cougars need to find a way to get past the opening round (for the first time in over three decades) if they're going to capture the attention of local fans.

Finally, John Royal does not mention in his column why he's leaving the Press, but I can't help if his departure is yet another nail in the now-online-only alt-weekly's coffin.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Infrastructural Citizenship

Kyle Shelton at the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University recently published Power Moves: Transportation, Politics and Development in Houston. Here's an excerpt of an excerpt:
The infrastructural debates of previous eras, and the physical legacies they left behind, shaped subsequent choices across the city, which in turn birthed the current built environment of the Houston metropolitan area. The passionate participation of a cross-section of Houstonians in these three transportation debates also reflected a larger political sea change that occurred in Houston’s politics and urban development between 1950 and today. When Houstonians fought for or against highways, considered the merits of mass transit, or advocated for other infrastructural outcomes, they not only altered the urban landscape but also seized a larger role in metropolitan growth decisions. By transforming elements of the built environment from inert materials into arenas in which they could claim and assert political power, residents crafted a set of rhetorical and political actions that constituted what I term infrastructural citizenship. In this case, citizenship is not defined by nationality or legal standing, but instead by the quotidian acts residents used to construct themselves as political participants. Most expressions of infrastructural citizenship in Houston emerged in the form of transportation activism. During efforts to protect or shape their communities, Houstonians staged protests, wrote letters, and attended countless public meetings. They organized historical preservation campaigns, lobbied city officials, and paid for independent planning efforts. They argued that their homes and local streets should be held in the same esteem as regional highways and downtown redevelopments. With each action, residents used the particular infrastructural debates around transportation decisions to assert their rights as citizens. The tactics pursued by residents reflected an inability to shift the early stages of decision-making and instead were moves that attempted to impact final results. Residents worked to delay projects, draw attention to concerns, and protest decisions of which they did not approve. Even if those efforts failed to achieve their desired outcomes, as many did, the simple act of projecting their hopes onto the structures allowed citizens to reshape their meaning. 
Houstonians engaged in transportation battles were far from alone in their use of infrastructural citizenship. Since World War II, citizens across America, not connected by any specific racial, economic, or political categorization, have embraced elements of the actions and ideas that constitute infrastructural citizenship in hopes of garnering control over their cities, streets, and homes. The examples from Houston highlighted in this book resonate with countless others from around the nation. Houstonians turned to fights about transportation infrastructure to cope with the immense physical, economic, and political tumult occurring in both urban and suburban America after World War II. Residents in other cities and regions fought over changes in development practices, the location of hazardous wastes, and even the impacts of energy infrastructure. The transportation fights in Houston quickly expanded to inform other metropolitan debates. Houstonians cared deeply about how mobility systems would serve them and connect the city, but they also channeled frustrations about a wide variety of issues into campaigns around transportation infrastructure. Beyond pushing for specific modes or routes, Houstonians used infrastructural conflicts to advocate for the protection of their communities, as an entry point into broader political debates, and as a way to forward their own visions for the city. Through these actions, citizens challenged the status quo of urban development and reconfigured the balance of metropolitan political power by inserting themselves into its fabric.
As a native Houstonian and transportation planner, I obviously need to get my hands on this book. It's available here.

Closing the final gap in the Interstate Highway System

The Interstate Highway System was begun in 1956 after being authorized by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Its original network was intended to be about 41 thousand miles in total length but currently is closer to 48 thousand miles. The system will will likely never be 100% complete, as new segments and additions are being added to it all the time. But interestingly, there's one piece of the original 1956 network that still isn't complete, and it involves the busiest highway in the system:
Interstate 95, the country’s most used highway, will finally run as one continuous road between Miami and Maine by the late summer. The interstate’s infamous “gap” on the Pennsylvania and New Jersey border will be closed, turning I-95 into an unbroken river of concrete more than 1,900 miles long. In so doing, it will also mark a larger milestone, say transportation officials—the completion of the original United States interstate system.
Construction to fix the I-95 gap began more than eight years ago in Pennsylvania, but it has now reached its final stage. This week, the New Jersey Department of Transportation began switching out road signs in preparation for the change.
But I-95’s completion isn’t a standalone feat. Local transportation planners claim it will herald a larger accomplishment.
“The original Interstate Highway Act had a network of highways across the nation that were associated it. Through some federal bills since then, that list was amended a little bit and made a little bit larger—but our understanding is that this is the final piece of that original interstate system,” says Jay Roth, a consultant at Jacobs Engineering Group who has worked to close the gap in I-95 for more than two decades.
The "gap" in Interstate 95 is not obvious; it's actually a bit obscure and confusing:
If you are driving northbound on I-95, just outside of Princeton, a road sign will warn you that I-95 North—the road you are on—is ending. But the physical road itself doesn’t end—instead, the highway veers south, now under the name Interstate 295. If you don’t get off at an exit, you will find yourself suddenly driving south, and have to do a complicated series of maneuvers to get back on a northbound road.
On the other side of this gap, Interstate 95 continues northward, starting from eight miles away.
It all sounds confusing, and it is—I didn’t fully understand what was happening until I reported this story, and I grew up 10 minutes from this stretch of interstate.
But while the current situation may be perplexing, the root cause of the problem is easy to explain: There was supposed to be a chunk of highway in this part of New Jersey, and no one ever built it.
The missing piece of highway - the so-called "Somerset Highway" - was never built due to community opposition, rising gas prices and other factors. In lieu of the missing piece of highway, the fix for this piece of I-95 will be pretty simple: new direct connector ramps between I-95 and I-276 (the Pennsylvania Turnpike), and some re-designations of existing highways. 

While this closes the gap in I-95, not everyone thinks it's the ideal solution:
“They’ve needed an interchange between 95 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It’s good that they’ve done this,” said Kornhauser, the Princeton professor, of the project.
But he still lamented that the old Somerset Highway would still never get built.
Separating I-95 from the New Jersey Turnpike would have helped alleviate one of the Mid-Atlantic’s biggest design flaws, he said. The original plan to bridge the gap by hooking the Somerset Highway into Interstate 287, which forms a beltway around greater New York, would have allowed most interstate drivers to circumvent the city’s downtown.
Instead, I-95 now feeds into the George Washington Bridge, dumping drivers who would otherwise bypass the region into uptown Manhattan and the Cross Bronx Expressway.
“This is boring. This is really doing nothing,” he said of the plan. “This is really doing nothing to try to alleviate the pressure on the northern part of the New Jersey Turnpike and the George Washington Bridge.”
After looking at a map of the highway network in New Jersey and New York City, I can see that what Professor Kornhauser says makes sense. But it's clear that the Somerset Highway is never going to get off the drawing board it has spent the last six decades languishing on, so this is the next-best solution.

As the article notes, this project should be complete - and the gap in I-95 closed - late this summer. 

Vince McMahon wants to resurrect the XFL

If at first you don't succeed, try again:
WWE founder and chairman Vince McMahon announced Thursday he is giving a professional football league another go. 
It will be called the XFL, the same name of the league McMahon and NBC tried for one season in 2001, but it won't rely on flashy cheerleaders and antics as its predecessor did, he said. 
McMahon said he is the sole funding source for the league, which is slated to begin in January 2020.  
Its first season will have eight teams around the country playing a 10-week schedule. The initial outlay of money is expected to be around $100 million, the same amount of WWE stock McMahon sold last month and funneled into Alpha Entertainment, the company he founded for the project. 
"I wanted to do this since the day we stopped the other one," McMahon told ESPN in an exclusive interview. "A chance to do it with no partners, strictly funded by me, which would allow me to look in the mirror and say, 'You were the one who screwed this up,' or 'You made this thing a success.'" 
McMahon told reporters on Thursday afternoon that he has had no initial talks with media entities.
While this announcement raises a few eyebrows, especially considering how much of a flop the original incarnation of the XFL proved to be, a big takeaway I got from ESPN's 30 for 30 on the XFL that McMahon wasn't finished with the idea of operating a football league.

That being said, and while I commend him for trying a different tactic with the second version of his football league: if the XFL of 2001 was such a flop even with all the gimmicks - the flashy cheerleaders, Jesse Ventura, He Hate Me, etc. - what makes him think that a "toned-down" version will somehow be more successful?

What makes McMahon, furthermore, think that springtime football will ever be successful at all? It didn't work for him in 2001, it didn't work for the World League or NFL Europe, and it didn't work for the USFL back in the 80s (although the USFL's failure was partly due to the incompetence of the embarrassing buffoon currently occupying the Oval Office). Americans just don't seem to have an appetite for springtime football.
One of the reasons McMahon thinks he will be able to succeed 19 years after the league first failed is because, he said, television ratings no longer dictate success. 
"To me the landscape has changed in so many different ways," McMahon said. "Just look at technology and companies like Facebook and Amazon bidding for sports rights. Even if ratings go down, there's no denying that live sports rights continue to be valuable and continue to deliver."
One of the ways McMahon envisions enticing major media partners is to offer them something the NFL hasn't: more creative feeds of the same game. 
"I don't think people want to see the same thing when they're streaming as they see on television," McMahon said. "That's boring. I think fans want it shot in a totally different way, and I think there's an immersive opportunity that's more interactive to the game."
Meh... I'm still skeptical. But hey, it's his money, and it's his dream.

Teams will be announced in 2019, with kickoff in 2020. We'll see where it goes.